competition-business-bidding-race-ss-1920“The problem with competition is that it takes away the requirement to set your own path, to invent your own method, to find a new way.”: Seth Godin

The Himalayan Terai may be an unusual place to start a blog about branding strategy but that’s where we must travel for inspiration. This is where we find the Musk Deer – a near mythical creature, sleek of skin and slight of frame, best known for the “Kasturi” scent emanating from a pod near it’s navel. Legend has it that the musk deer is so enamoured of the musky odour that it relentlessly roams hill and dale searching for its source, blissfully ignorant that the beauty it seeks lies within. Presumably, the tale ends poorly for the deer who either perishes on this doomed quest or gives up in disgust (do deer feel disgust?). Those in the branding, or rebranding, business may sense a certain likeness between the doomed deer and the product and brand managers they must deal with and it’s not their heady scent we are talking about. Not ringing a bell? Well, consider how many discussions you have been in recently that revolve around “We want to be just like (insert gigantic brand name).” That’s the musk deer syndrome at work right there.

Our submission to brands & brand managers is to stop looking outside and to recognize what lies within – to stop being led by the competition and instead to be driven by your own core strengths, values, and beliefs. Looking back at over a dozen years of working with brands, this is the one strategy that has always paid off handsomely. And the reasons are not far to see – there are some clear benefits to the brand.

  1. Control: Obviously, you cannot control the actions, or the reactions of others – you only have control over your own actions so shouldn’t you focus on those? Staying focused on your own strengths will allow you to create and execute a well thought out long-term plan, to be more proactive, and to try to influence the market in the way you desire. Being focused on the competition will make you reactive, uncertain, and unable to predict your own next step.
  2. Innovation: Sustained innovation rarely results from a random flash of inspiration. To take root, innovation needs time, space, and a carefully designed ecosystem that promotes it always. For innovation to flourish it must be freed from the pressure of the impending next move, and be driven instead by the big picture, and the long-term. This is only possible when you, and your innovation process align with your own objectives.   Not much chance of that happening when you are always focused on being agile enough to counter the next move of your competitor.
  3. Be Unique: You have your own circumstances, your own character, and your own history – all of which comes together to make your brand what it is. Your competitors are similarly unique in their own way too. Focusing on, and highlighting, all that has gone into making your brand what it is will allow you to carve out a unique, a differentiated, identity. It is this that will help you stand out with the consumers. Trying to be someone else will make you look confused, and a wannabe. As has been said, you have to be you ‘coz everyone else is already taken!
  4. Sustainable: In the long run being true to your own nature is the only truly sustainable option. Playing to your strengths allows you to be more natural and takes less concerted effort. This will allow you to act instinctively and lead with your heart, whether it is in creating a market or in trying to carve out a niche for yourself in one. In a nutshell, doing what comes naturally to you, your brand, and your organization is just easier to pull off.
  5. Genuine: Today’s consumer is savvy. The consumer knows there are a variety of choices out there and is willing to make the effort to find a brand that resonates with his or her specific set of values. They are also perfectly capable of looking right into the soul of the brand to seek that resonance. If your brand promise is based on a strong foundation of real beliefs and values it is much more likely to appear to be genuine and worthy of the discerning consumer’s trust.

Sri Aurobindo had said, “True knowledge is not attained by thinking. It is what you are; it is what you become.” To that, we would add that the journey to doing, or indeed being, all that you can ever be is based on the core of who you are inside. If you agree, then it’s time to stop looking at the competition – instead look deep within to build that winning brand strategy. Do that, and that musky fragrance enveloping you may well be the sweet smell of brand success.


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